National Islands Plan review: consultation analysis

The report sets out the main findings of the public consultation carried out to inform a review of the National Islands Plan 2019.

Annex 4: Detailed points from workshops

In addition to the online (public) consultation, the Scottish Government carried out 16 workshops (13 in-person and 3 online). Workshop attendees were invited to give their views on six open questions covering three themes: (i) awareness, (ii) focus, and (iii) governance. The key findings from each workshop were summarised by Scottish Government officials, and an analysis of the summaries is presented in Chapter 7 of this report as part of the analysis of the consultation responses. This annex provides a collation of detailed points made in the summary reports, collated under each of the themes discussed in Chapter 7.


Giving members of island communities a stronger voice in delivery (Q1)

The question was: How do you see yourself, as a member of an island community, having a stronger voice in the delivery of the National Islands Plan?

Barriers to community involvement

  • Lack of capacity
    • Island residents can suffer from consultation fatigue (or overload). Many who are active in their communities – including community councillors – are older volunteers. Asking these individuals to take on more work on a voluntary basis will result in increasing pressure on them and excludes younger people from involvement in delivery. Consultation is complex and time-consuming. It shouldn’t be left to unpaid volunteers.
    • Community councils don’t have resources to encourage, promote or participate in engagement activities. In addition, concerns were expressed about the extent to which some community councils truly represent the views of their communities.
    • Not all islands have a strong voice. This creates inequality in how individual islands are able to put their voice across.
  • People’s perceptions
    • Participants thought there was a lot of ‘bureaucracy’ associated with the National Islands Plan. This made them reluctant to engage with it.
    • There was a perception that the current approach to governance is ‘top-down’, not ‘community-centric’.
    • People can feel their voices are heard, but not listened to. Consultation feels ‘tokenistic’ – nothing changes as a result.
    • People feel that policy- and decision-making happens remotely, and that those making policy and decisions are not familiar with island life.
  • Lack of information
    • People don’t know how they can feed into or contribute to the delivery of a national plan.
    • Islanders do not necessarily have knowledge of islands policies, or information about what the Scottish Government Islands Team does. Thus, they do not understand the value of becoming involved in the delivery of the plan.
  • Lack of opportunity
    • There are not enough opportunities for communities to become genuinely involved.

How to improve community involvement

  • Raise awareness and give people more information
    • Awareness of the National Islands Plan needs to be improved. Give individuals information in ways that are accessible and relevant to them, to enable them to make informed decisions.
    • The plan can and should be closer to communities.
    • Keep local communities informed about delivery of the plan and its funding. It is not always possible to know who is responsible for local investments / changes.
    • Communities should know who represents them on the National Islands Plan Delivery Group. Information on the membership of this group should be widely publicised.
    • Communities should know who exactly is responsible for delivery so they are able to ‘hammer on the right door’.
    • Information needs to be ‘live’. There should be a National Islands Plan website to signpost, share progress, and provide options to subscribe to a mailing list / blog feed.
    • Feedback loops should be created to share directly with people what was said and what change was made as a result.
    • Island level reports should be produced, rather than (or in addition to) a large single annual report.
  • Improve direct communication between SGIT and island communities
    • Members of SGIT should be based in the islands. This would give them a greater understanding of the specific challenges faced by local communities.
    • A National Islands Plan Network (similar to the Young Islands Network but for people over 25) should be established.
    • Consider establishing a mechanism for island communities to alert SGIT about issues that concern them. A ‘direct line’ to SGIT would be welcome.
    • SGIT should have a local contact list for islands, so that they can speak to identified individuals before decisions are taken.
    • There should be more participatory events.
  • Strengthen local democracy
    • Democratic structures should be strengthened to make it possible to gather and ‘collate’ individual voices. There was concern that a focus on individual voices may obscure the collective community voice.
    • Ensure that local people are involved in priority-setting and funding decisions. Involve local communities in governance.
    • Give people a reason to engage. Greater devolution of decision-making and budgets will increase local accountability, and result in more local engagement.
    • There should be consultation with island communities before decisions are taken and announcements are made by Scottish Ministers.
    • There should be a more proactive approach to seeking out ‘indigenous’ or quieter voices.
    • There should be more visits to the islands by Scottish Ministers.
  • Enable localised decision-making and delivery
    • Localised approaches would be helpful. The Faroe Islands was given as an example of what works well.
    • There needs to be better alignment between the plan and local priorities. It needs to be clearer to islanders what impact the plan will have on their community.
    • Members of communities would find it easier to get involved in decision-making and delivery of local plans (rather than a national plan).
    • Communities should have access to island-scale data. This would improve governance and give communities the ability to evidence their priorities and monitor progress and impact at a local level.
    • There should be more individual island plans (as in Cumbrae and Arran). Individual island plans should feed into the overarching National Islands Plan.
  • Provide support / funding to build capacity and to enable people to engage.
    • Funding should be provided to allow a local individual (or individuals, where there are groups of islands) to act as a liaison between communities and SGIT. There was a recurring view that development officers in development trusts could take on this role. Alternatively, the liaison post could be based in a local authority (the example of North Ayrshire Council was mentioned).
    • Create a network of paid ‘island champions’ (or liaison officers) whose role is to engage with communities and feed back to SGIT. This person could have responsibility for an island, or a theme within the plan.
    • Ensure there is community representation on working groups and stakeholder groups (with the resources to support this).
  • Work through existing representative bodies or community-based service providers.
    • Connections and existing links with community councils, development trusts, community planning partnerships, and local Third Sector Interfaces (TSIs) need to be increased and strengthened. At the same time, participants suggested that not all community councils were necessarily seen to be representative of the views of their wider communities.
    • The Scottish Islands Federation (SIF) and Community Land Scotland were both seen to play an important role in understanding and representing island communities. SIF could potentially focus more on representing communities that are harder to reach and which do not have a community anchor organisation in place.

Organisations that should have a greater role in delivering the plan (Q2)

The question was: Are there any organisations that you think should have a greater role in the delivery of the National Islands Plan?

  • Development trusts
    • Development trusts and other community anchor organisations were frequently mentioned by workshop participants.
    • ‘Development trusts are the obvious choice.’ However, participants cautioned against relying on unpaid volunteers which they saw as unsustainable.
  • Local authorities and their community planning partners
    • Some participants thought that local authorities would be in the best position to deliver positive outcomes for their local communities. Those who had this view thought local authorities should have a more prominent role in delivery.
    • Other participants thought the delivery role should not be limited to local authorities, and some argued that their own local authority (which had responsibility for both mainland and island communities) needed to focus more on the islands.
    • Concerns were voiced that elected councillors do not always disseminate relevant information to the community.
  • Community councils
    • Some participants saw community councils as the best organisations to be involved because ‘they are direct representatives of the local communities’.
    • Not all participants agreed with this view. There was a view that the community council model needed to be reviewed and properly resourced before community councils are given significant additional responsibility.
  • Scottish Islands Federation (SIF)
    • SIF was seen to be a helpful organisation.
    • SIF’s housing group was viewed as a positive force in the islands.
    • Participants in one workshop thought SIF needed to engage with all community councils and development trusts to ensure a greater community role.
    • Participants in another workshop thought SIF should be given greater support / funding to enable it grow and become more agile.
  • Other local community forums or groups
    • ‘Grassroots partnerships’ were seen as the key to securing the voice of communities.
    • There was a preference for ‘direct engagement’ with communities, rather than engagement through organisations such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Futures Trust, or even local authorities.
    • The work of the Harris Forum (12 local member organisations, including all three local community councils) was highlighted as a positive model. The forum holds regular meetings, invites speakers, and provides members with opportunities to share information.
  • Other local third sector organisations
    • This would include: (i) local social enterprises, (ii) local TSIs, (iii) local churches (specifically, in relation to extending the reach of information sharing).
  • Private sector organisations (local and national)
    • Some participants thought there was a need to engage more with business as they were seen to be the backbone of communities.
    • Suitable private sector organisations were seen to be: (i) major employers and island industries (fishing, farming, etc.), (ii) utilities companies, (iii) communications companies and (iv) local and regional press.
  • Other general points
    • The organisations that should have a greater role in delivery would be different across the islands. However, any organisation or individual involved in supporting delivery of the plan would need to be properly funded / resourced. It is unsustainable to rely on volunteers to do this.
    • A model of engagement involving representatives from all 93 populated islands could be challenging to manage.
    • There is a need to involve younger people in the delivery of the plan.


Improving communication between SGIT and island communities (Q1)

The question was asked: How might SGIT better communicate our work to island communities?

General points

  • People think nothing is being done through the National Islands Plan because of a lack of communication about what is being done. SGIT needs to think about how to better badge the investments made through the plan.
  • The National Islands Plan needs to be broken down into easy-to-understand sections. Information needs to be accessible. Use plain English.
  • Make use of summaries, short snippets, videos, animations, and infographics. Scottish Government consultations are not always accessible or easy to understand.
  • Communications need to be tailored to each island. People are more likely to engage with local, rather than national issues.
  • Communication needs to be ongoing. Consultation once every four years is not a good model.
  • Communication needs to be two-way. Consultation is largely top down, where the topics of discussion are decided by the Scottish Government. There needs to be a feedback loop. Provide information about how people can contact SGIT if they need to.

Direct face-to-face engagement

  • Go beyond meetings with local authorities and engage directly with communities and grassroots organisations. More island visits from SGIT would be welcome.
  • Give adequate notice of events so that people can arrange to attend.
  • Attend existing community group meetings, lunches or other events. Consultation events can be easily tagged on to these kinds of pre-existing meetings.
  • Have a table / stall at local events such as agricultural shows.
  • Engage with children and young people in schools and clubs. They are key to the future success of the plan.
  • Use libraries, health centres, village halls, etc.
  • Host surgeries like MPs / MSPs do, or local councillors could have a role in hosting public meetings.
  • Base SGIT members in island communities, even for a short period of time (e.g. one month).
  • Vary consultation times to meet the needs of islanders.
  • Try to reach the people who don’t live in the main population centres.

Print and broadcast media engagement

  • Advertise in community newsletters, local newspapers (print and online), by radio, and through posters on local notice boards and in shop windows, and leaflets to households – not everyone is able to engage online or through social media.
  • Ensure that any SGIT logo (or National Islands Plan logo) is prominently displayed in any projects funded by the plan.
  • Produce a regular newsletter / bulletin covering the projects currently being worked on.

Digital engagement

  • Create a National Islands Plan (or SGIT) website.
  • Increase social media presence. Create a discussion forum. Use local Facebook pages.
  • Provide follow-up communication for those who engaged with the National Islands Plan Review consultation. This could be in the form of an email message outlining collated contributions.
  • Hold regular (online) meetings with island communities.
  • Ensure there is excellent digital connectivity for all island communities. Poor connectivity is a barrier.

Disseminate information through local organisations, community groups and forums

  • Disseminate information through local authorities, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, SIF, community councils, development trusts, village hall committees, lunch clubs, youth groups, etc. (Note that not every area has a community council.)
  • Disseminate information through local forums.
  • Engage with local Democracy Matters.

Establish a communications team (or communications officer) within SGIT

  • SGIT should have a communications plan and their own communications and marketing team (or communications officer).

Other types of communication

  • All consultations in island communities should involve community engagement. This may also work for ICIAs and other impact assessments. There should be better engagement with local communities in relation to ICIAs.
  • Provide small pots of funding directly to island communities, or route funding through local structures.

What NOT to do when communicating with island communities

  • Do NOT arrange meetings with island communities at short notice.
  • Do NOT use QR codes to communicate important information.
  • Do NOT use jargon and buzz words.
  • Do NOT make written communications too long and complex.
  • Do NOT make sole use of social media.

Examples of successful island engagement by other organisations (Q2)

The question was asked: Can you give some examples of island engagement by other organisations which you think have been successful?

Organisations or types of organisations mentioned multiple times

  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise – This organisation was held up by some participants as an example of some good practice in engaging with communities. They were reported to engage positively and effectively in the islands.
    • HIE have local area officers who work directly with individuals and businesses in the local community.
    • They produce a good regular newsletter.
  • Local development trusts, community development companies and other community partnerships – Engaging people on local issues is better / easier than engaging them on national plans and strategies. Some organisations that were considered to carry out successful engagement were mentioned by name. These included Colonsay Community Development Company, and Point and Sandwick Trust. In some cases, participants did not specifically name local community organisations, but said that work on developing local plans or tackling local concerns had been positive. Examples given by participants included the development of the Visit Arran local plan, community involvement in developments on the Isle of Eigg, work on the development and delivery of the Harris Plan (which involved reviewing a wide range of other local plans), and the community of Cumbrae coming together to object to plans for a solar farm. Participants highlighted the things that community organisations do well:
    • They engage with communities on a regular basis.
    • They involve the community in identifying the problem(s) and looking for solutions, and they bring people together to create the change.
    • They share knowledge with other development trusts.
    • They provide refreshments which encourages attendance.

Other examples of successful island engagement by other organisations -- or types of successful engagement – mentioned once

Across all the workshops, participants identified a large number of organisations or individuals who (in their view) have undertaken successful engagement with island communities OR who have demonstrated positive models of engagement in other contexts. In every case, these examples were mentioned once at one event:

  • Ireland’s recently published Islands Plan. This was suggested as a possible example to emulate in the next Scottish National Islands Plan.
  • Funding bodies – Inspiring Scotland and the National Lottery Fund were both named.
  • Local authorities in the 1990s – were much more engaged with local communities then.
  • RSPB – engaged communities on rat eradication, had clear communication with lots of media and videos.
  • Community learning exchanges / online learning exchanges. The example was given of the Scottish Island Federation Marine Litter project.
  • The Crofting Commission – specific action resulted from their engagement.
  • Hebnet – (internet service provider on the Isle of Eigg) – listened, understood the problem and delivered a solution.
  • Emma Roddick (MSP) and Dental Van – came to the island, listened, and got positive communication back.
  • Development of Uist Energy Plan – communications and engagement were ‘good’.
  • Engagement on Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan (Scottish Government) – there were repeated engagement and discussion sessions, with tangible evidence that messages were taken on board.
  • Scottish Government agricultural sessions about how funding will progress from the CAP – highlighted as an excellent format.
  • Historic Environment Scotland – they have a good balance between their activities elsewhere and in Orkney.
  • Senior officer in North Ayrshire Council – helps people in Arran understand ‘the landscape’.
  • Development of ‘Keeping the Promise’ – a different context, but there was a focus on lived experience, community engagement, and involvement from independent parties. The review and development of the implementation plan were not rushed, and politics did not feature.
  • Example of a good Island Communities Impact Assessment – Western Isles Council on the bus network.

Elements of good engagement

  • DO use group sessions.
  • DO use participative sessions. They ensure that people do not feel ‘talked to’.
  • DO act on what has been said.
  • DO keep things approachable.

Organisations or aspects of engagement that were not seen positively

  • Do NOT limit or avoid contact with the community.
  • Do NOT undertake engagement and then give no feedback afterwards about what will be (or what has been) done.
  • Do NOT forget to act on what has been said.
  • Two organisations were singled out as examples of poor engagement: CalMac and Highlands and Islands Airports Limited. Participants said their approach to engagement has been ‘arms-length’ and that it has not delivered at an island level.


Views on the need for prioritisation of the Strategic Objectives in the National Islands Plan (Q1)

The question was asked: Would you want to see prioritisation of the Strategic Objectives in the National Islands Plan?

  • There was no consensus on this question across workshops, but there appeared to be consensus within individual workshops.
  • Some workshops thought all the strategic objectives were important and linked, but participants also said it would be helpful to focus on a more limited set of objectives.
  • At least three workshops did not support, or did not suggest, a prioritisation of objectives.
  • Most others thought some form of prioritisation would be acceptable.
  • A recurring theme was that every island is different and every island should have (or develop) its own island plan.

How should the strategic objectives be prioritised – and why? (Q2)

Respondents were asked which strategic objectives they thought should be prioritised and why. Not all workshops provided that level of detail, but most did identify strategic objectives that they thought were ‘key’, ‘critical’ or ‘essential’.

Reasons for prioritising (or not prioritising) specific strategic objectives

  • Transport
    • This was described as ‘critical’ and ‘absolutely key’.
    • Transport is one of the keys to ensuring the success of other objectives – if transport is fixed, everything else will fall into place – without ferries, everything else fails.
    • Islands are surrounded by water, so ferries are important. But transport provision had been getting worse.
    • There were concerns voiced about the cost, frequency and availability of ferries and air transport. Travel to mainland Scotland is unaffordable for most families and workers. Lifeline services are no longer lifeline.
    • Flights, ferries and cabins are impossible to book during the summer months due to tourist bookings.
    • Inner-isle ferries are at crisis point.
    • There are particular issues in some islands regarding transport timetables to support commuting, rather than tourism.
    • Bus timetables do not always connect to off-island services.
    • Boats should be based on the island they service rather than somewhere else, thus giving people more time on their nearest mainland.
    • The amount of freight taking up space on passenger ferries is an aggravating factor. The transport of freight is essential to local economies, but the infrastructure needs to be improved.
    • However, the focus should not just be on ferries, but also on aviation.
  • Housing
    • This was described as ‘essential’ and ‘critical’ for island existence; the lack of housing was seen as a ‘crisis’.
    • Housing is one of the keys to ensuring the success of other objectives: without the right mix of housing, keeping people on the islands is difficult. Housing and population growth are closely linked. You cannot have one without the other. If housing is fixed, everything else will fall into place.
    • Young people are leaving the islands because it’s impossible for them to get accommodation locally.
    • Affordable housing is needed – local people cannot afford local houses.
    • Due to housing shortages, there is a shortage of people working in health and social care jobs. There is no medical provision at all on some islands.
    • Housing was reported to be the number one priority on Mull by the Mull workshop participants.
    • Housing shortages were reported by several workshops. At the same time, there is ample space to build houses, but no funding from local authority or Scottish Government.
    • This objective should also include home insulation – seen as a priority in the Western Isles.
    • Participants would also like to see more of a focus on certain related issues, like people owning second homes.
  • Population
    • Housing and population growth are closed linked – you cannot have one without the other.
    • Population relies on everything else.
    • Demographics in islands are unbalanced. There are too many older / retired people. Islands need more families and young people.
    • Covid exacerbated population decline.
  • Sustainable economic development
    • Sustainable economic development should be a main priority.
    • Agriculture could be considered under this objective (or others).
    • Well-paying jobs provide the potential for building homes.
    • Sustainable economic development depends upon the quantity and quality of transport, housing and digital infrastructure.
  • Health, social care, and wellbeing
    • Islands have large populations of retired people. Island demographics need to be considered more in any future National Islands Plan – especially in terms of planning health and social care services.
    • At the same time, there is a shortage of people working in health and social care services because of the lack of affordable housing.
    • Volunteers are being asked to do more and more because the services are not there.
    • There is no medical provision on some islands (Bressay was mentioned).
  • Fuel poverty
    • Fuel poverty was seen to be a key issue in the Western Isles.
  • Empowered communities
    • Arguably, empowering communities is the most important objective. If a community is sufficiently empowered (and, crucially, adequately resourced), they will be able to identify and resolve for themselves the issues affecting their community.
    • All objectives should be delivered through local empowerment.
    • The empowered communities objective should allow adequate prioritisation of localised issues, together with adequate financial support, to enable meaningful changes.
    • There was a view that the empowerment of communities is not really considered when government makes decisions involving investment in energy production.
    • The ICIA process should be one of the ways of better empowering communities.
  • Digital
    • Improvements in digital infrastructure is key to keeping people on the islands. If you live in an area without full digital connectivity, you are at a disadvantage.
    • Digital connectively is closely linked to transport – if digital connectivity could be improved, it might reduce the need to travel.
    • The narrative in the 2022 National Islands Plan annual report suggests 5G is available on Flotta, but there is no 5G on the island, only intermittent 3G and 4G. Broadband and mobile phone suppliers are reluctant to connect to Flotta. The lack of digital connectivity makes it very difficult for working-aged people with children to live on the island.
    • Poor internet connectivity is a huge issue on some islands, particularly in the summertime with a large influx of tourists.
  • Education
    • Better education leads to well-paying jobs and well-paying jobs provide the potential for building homes.
    • Further education on some islands is being cut due to lack of funding. Young people go south to learn practical skills that are needed in the islands, but they then cannot return due to a lack of housing.
    • There needs to be more focus on apprenticeships and education to keep younger people in island communities.
    • There needs to be a tailored approach to island skills requirements.
    • A lack of childcare and child minders is putting pressure on families.
    • There are not currently enough young people in some island communities for the community to function properly. Education, childcare and young people moving to or remaining in communities should be prioritised. Mechanisms to encourage local retention of young people is key, as is anything that can support inward migration of young people.
  • Environment and biodiversity
    • The conservation of islands is very important; they are special places.
    • Agriculture could be considered under this objective (or others).
    • This objective could be amalgamated with the Climate Change and Energy objective.
  • Climate change and energy
    • Energy supply was described as ‘critical’ by the Skye workshop.
    • Agriculture could be considered under this objective (or others).
    • This objective could be amalgamated with Environment and Biodiversity objective.
  • Arts, language and culture
    • The current National Framework for arts is ‘great’.[6] This should not be changed, and the Arts, Language and Culture objective therefore does not need to be considered in the National Islands Plan.
    • The Arts, Language and Culture objective should include aspects of digital connectivity.
  • Suggested new objective: Agriculture, tourism and fishing
    • Tourism needs to be included in the plan. It has a massive impact on island communities – both positive and negative. And the benefits of tourism do not necessarily reach all island communities.
    • A passenger levy on cruise passengers would be welcome and would link with the Sustainable Economic Development objective.
    • Tourism should be an additional strategic objective. Despite tourist revenue being significant in some island communities, those communities often don’t see any investment back into community infrastructure as a result.
    • Some island communities do not want to be reliant on tourism and instead want to focus on encouraging a more diverse population with different skills / ages.



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